“Cranberries get on my nerves.” This is one of the many reasons Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) cites for stalling at an airport for hours rather than go directly to her family home. She’s one of many members of the Cooper clan that Love the Coopers follows over the course of a Christmas Eve.
We see scenes that feel rather like vignettes of what the disparate family members get up to all day long before coming together for their annual celebrations. The thread between these moments is a heavy dose of voiceover, supplied by Steve Martin, that is omniscient and occasionally poetic, but often more insistent than necessary. For all the good moments it has with some of the more interesting characters, it’s ultimately a usage that gives credence to the idea that voiceover is a crutch used to prop up flimsy stories.
Still, it’s hard not to be occasionally charmed, and there are far worse narrators than Steve Martin to contend with. That his voice is so present throughout the film does rather make it feel like a bizarro kindred to Father of the Bride in a timeline where George doesn’t get to marry Diane Keaton. The intention, however seems to be more in the vein of the angelic discussion of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.
And speaking of cinematic homages, Love the Coopers does have a couple great ones, courtesy of conversations between waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) and her favorite customer, (Alan Arkin). Though the film on the whole does a good job balancing its large cast, it’s inevitable that some characters are more interesting than others. The story could stand a good deal more of Ruby and , as well as Marissa Tomei and Anthony Mackie’s odd pairing of a woman caught in an attempt to shoplift a broach by stashing it in her mouth and the police officer who gets the bum job of collecting her and hauling her downtown.
Narratively, the film manages the vignettes fairly well, but it lacks clarity with the actual family structure. Some of this may stem from having so many pretty people sharing a screen, but some of it must also stem from the actual ages of the talent in this film. Diane Keaton is only 12 years younger than Alan Arkin who plays her father, but 18 years a senior to her on screen sister, Marissa Tomei. And the fact that all three look years younger than their age suggests only confuses the situation more. Perhaps four generations is a bridge too far to cram into one story without some confusion, but the viewer who doesn’t feel compelled to riddle out the family tree shouldn’t be disturbed at all — whatever their ages, those three Coopers pack some serious talent.
An innovative film Love the Coopers is not. It’s a saccharin drenched, often derivative holiday diversion that arguably tries a bit too hard to be worthy of love, but it has some undeniably lovely human moments. Scenes of Olivia Wilde getting lost in other people’s emotions or Diane Keaton gazing mistily into a long ago past or Marissa Tomei exploding a charm bomb while handcuffed make Love the Coopers an ultimately enjoyable watch. Plus, the lighthearted, trope-laden end product is the perfect background fodder for holiday pursuits like baking or decorating, so expect to see it in heavy rotation during The 25 Days of Christmas soon enough.